“The Human Centipede” isn’t a horror film, it’s an oozing block of pure shock value, begging on bleeding knees for audiences to find the material vile. It pushes buttons and dares the viewer to keep watching ghastly events unfold, while writer/director Tom Six kicks back satisfied, perhaps even aroused. To admit complete disgust with “Human Centipede” is exactly what the filmmaker wants; however, the picture commits an even greater sin, despite all the arm flailing and slosh of perversion: it’s a complete and unforgivable bore.
Two Americans ready to party hard in Germany, Lindsay (Ashley C. Williams) and Jenny (Ashlynn Yennie) find themselves stranded in the middle of nowhere with a flat tire. Terrified, the girls head to a remote home for help, meeting the sinister Dr. Heiter (Dieter Laser), who promptly drugs the women and drags them into his secret medical lab.
A leader in separating conjoined twins, Heiter is ready to attempt his greatest medical marvel with The Human Centipede, surgically linking three bodies (via mouth to anus) together to create a singular monster. With the abduction of a Japanese tourist (Akihiro Kitamura), Heiter finally achieves his dream, treating his new pet of limited mobility violently, while the three connected bodies suffer great pain and humiliation. However, when a pair of dim-witted cops starts sniffing around the premises, Heiter panics, worried his medical achievement will be discovered.
“The Human Centipede” was created to cause trouble. It toys with controversy in a startlingly confident way, pushing though unimaginable visuals and suffering with director Six delighting in his madness — I have to assume he imagines the picture as a cinematic form of Jergens and Kleenex. The film doesn’t exactly lunge for disease as much as it causally splashes in the puddles in perversion, taking the scenic route to suspense, as Heiter spends more time staring than he does dicing.
This film isn’t interested in scares, it craves revulsion. Methodically detailing the torment inflicted on the three sections of the Centipede, Six lingers on their cries, their whimpers, and their fright. “Human Centipede” isn’t artful, it’s shameless, which I recognize is a birthday present to some genre fanatics out there, but it’s difficult to grasp what Six is seeking to achieve with this film.
There’s no suspense outside of a few escape sequences, the surgical scenes are surprisingly restrained, and Heiter’s dehumanization of the Centipede is handed porno-like attention, not true terror. Matters seem more self-serving for Six than cinematically rewarding, a sensation helped along by the film’s crude appearance, acting atrocities (Laser has a certain Tommy Wiseau way about him), and general fetishistic German sway (the go-to nation for crimes against nature).
Beyond the screams and cries for mommy, there’s nothing going on in the film. Take away the central concept of surgical extremity, and the picture is a tiresome exercise in boneheaded screenwriting, with idiot characters happily strolling into danger without thinking (it’s not like the fiendish Dr. Heiter greets visitors wearing kitten sweaters), or the general, repetitive slasher film mentality that renders the film impotent in terms of suspense. In a strange way, “Human Centipede” plays it safe, lingering on cruelty instead of reaching for an explosive sense of insanity, afraid to chase the brain-warped potential of the concept.
“The Human Centipede” desires to provoke, it needs the viewer to be outraged and horrified. Perhaps it’s a source of titillation as well, though I’m doing my best to ignore the true appeal of this film to certain impressionable audiences. Unfortunately, suffering just isn’t enough. Pain doesn’t sustain an entire film. Fright flicks and the fine art of moral decay deserve a much more proficient representative than Tom Six and his cross-eyed, Ambien-dusted fixation on medical torture.